Monday, October 25, 2010
Tamil Films, Beards & Kamal
There is an incredible amount of beards found in Tamil film these days. From barely visible stubble, to Che Guevara-ish spacious growth to full blown facial mess, you just see them everywhere, whether it’s the films the fuzzy owners are acting in, or in off-screen functions where the number of beards compete directly with the number of cleavages. Comparatively, the latter is less disturbing.
Its not only stars on off-assignment mode that maintains these beards, but most of the on-screen characters these days comes with beard. It should be noted that films with rural background theme is making a wave now, not unlike early 80s when the likes of Bharathiraja popularised more local looking dudes with crown of curly going northwest and southeast and lots of facial hair. Character actors like Chandrasekhar, who owes his entire career to Karl Marx (unions) and director/writer/composer/editor/actor/janitor T. Rajendar, whose height disadvantage cost him the role of Chewbacca*, were immediately accepted by the mass who suddenly didn’t mind seeing facial hair emoting.
Then, it died out. Heroes were back to mustache and most popular look was blown-dry hair. As far as heroes are concerned, beard, usually reserved for after jail-sentence hero back for revenge, Ilayaraja tunes crooning sadcases who lost his sweetheart (thus rendering Ilayaraja more free time since he composed single tune for the late heroine and his bereaved lover), martyrs dying of disease (cancer’s the favourite), lads who are also master of disguises that a single goatee would dumbfound his own mother as we find her dumb, and for those wielding multiple roles, especially the beard is assigned to the dad (master performer, Sivaji Ganesan, succumbed to this trend in film like Trisoolam).
Of course, villains are given carte blanche to have what would range from goatee, to full blown above mentioned Marx-ish beards, they accessorised mind you. Beards was a must in mythical films for the bad guys as usual, the swamijis, extras playing wise-men, and the lead character in bio-pics, like Shri Ragavendra where Rajini goes from clean shaven handsome young men to Santa Claus in white.
But that was the 80s.
Decades earlier, beard was made infamous by MGR whose heroes usually used them and a thick mole for disguise. Though he still looked like MGR with beard and mole, in his universe nobody knows him except, maybe, Nagesh. Beards at that time too were relegated to bad guys, and sales of fake beards must have skyrocketed at the time when director A.P. Nagaran felt enough with contemporary social reform crap back in the 60s and on with mythologies. Of the cast of 100, 95 had beards, and none were clean shaven unless they are playing Krishna/Vishnu/Ramar or was NT RamaRao. Many mythological films appeared in the 70s, but most of them were with contemporary settings and beard went out of fashion in favour of wigs that look like black fist coming out of their forhead.
After brief resurgence in the 80s, beards went back to the closets they were kept and appeared briefly during the moments mentioned above. But then, nobody was as enthusiastic, nay, fanatic about beard than one of the best actors of his generation and perhaps the best looking man ever to grace the screen, Kamal Haasan.
Kamal flirted with beard at a very young age, nicely stubbled at 26 as unemployed poet in Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu, and adorned a fake one for the old man getup in Kadal Meenkal. When his character was stricken with cancer in Vazhve Mayam, he quickly bearded up and lost his girlfriend (no, not because of the beard though I’d like to think so). In Oru Kaithiyin Diary, he loses his loved one and comes out of jail with beard. I, at that time, suspected that movie prison encourages beard, like cops are encouraged to have mustache. There were scores of heroes who were jailed and later comes out to prove their innocence with the aid of wit, newly acquired martial arts skill and beard.
Back to Kamal. Death and love played a part again in Punnagai Mannan, when after failing in suicide and killing his girlfriend in the process (planned paired suicide went wrong), Kamal comes back to the society (from the jail, remember) as bearded dancing master and a regular pain in the ass moody grouch bag, which would have ruined the film if not for cheerfully funny uncle of his, also played by Kamal. The second Kamal had almost Chaplinesque mustach, goes to show that funny does not equal beard.
But all these were fake beards, you can spot them so far away. He said to hell with his dry-blown hair, cropped it short and grew actual 100% pure facial hair. The film, Sathya, had some of the best fight sequences in the history, and the beard only made Kamal more ferocious. Fake beard made a comeback in Michael Madhana Kamarajan when the evil Kamal (there was four of them with varying degrees of facial hair) had a goatie that couldn’t make its mind whether or not to join the sideburn.
And ferocity was the key of Hey Ram, self-directed masterpiece that sees him seriously experimenting with facial hair. You get to see a clean shaven Kamal, and then lightly bearded with ponytail, then heavily bushed, then with a black caterpillar above his lips, back to beard so much so that, though it was chronological, you feel like you are in a Tarantino movie.
In another self-directed brilliant film, Virumandi, Kamal sports what is known as “Franz-Josef beard”, though it looked more like he went, “Oh crap, what am I doing?” halfway shaving the bottom part of his full beard. It looked good nevertheless, as he did in Pammal K. Sambanthan where he sported lazy stubble and in Panchatanthiram looking good as a Pilot with a sharp goatee that did the acting on behalf of Simran. The goatee made a comeback in Mumbai Express to make up for Kamal’s deaf stunt man In Dasavatharam, he gave few of his characters (he played ten) different styles of facial hair, with two having beards. After that, he came out full fledged with nicely trimmed one in Unnaipol Oruvan, where his beard became evidence for his characters possible background. Was that a Muslim beard or a Hindu one?
Let’s face it, Kamal owns beard. It’s a copyright item belonging to Kamal Haasan that the other actors must pay royalty to. Kamal can sport a beard as and when he goddam pleases, in any which film whether or no he is in it. Kamal can have beard when he is in front of the camera, or behind the camera, or at his office or in your home doing plumbing. And he can still look awesome, no matter what style he chooses.
It is the assumption, that beard did the acting for Kamal, that the younger set of actors seemed to be bent on having beards or different style of facial hairs for each films. Wrong! To Kamal they were his prop, like Rajini and his fags or sunglass, like Sarath Kumar and his sombu. The rest is pure performance. If they have an award category for Most Awesome Facial Hair, Kamal is bound to win every year until they ban him.
*He was three feet shorter.